‘Au pairs’ in Australia being exploited by families, says study

Overseas visitors involved in childcare and housekeeping duties are underpaid

The majority of ‘au pairs’ working in Australia are being exploited, a wide-ranging study alleged Thursday, citing a lack of government accountability in place to protect young visitors.

A country-wide survey of 1,500 ‘au pairs’ — who traditionally perform light, part-time duties — found 60% were working 36-hour weeks while being paid less than the national minimum wage.

The study was conducted by the University of Technology Sydney and Macquarie University.

Thousands of young overseas visitors work in Australia as au pairs, mostly young European women on working holiday visas.

Many work under informal arrangements, whereby a family offers board and a small amount of money in exchange for child minding and light housekeeping duties.

High cost of childcare

On average they were working just a few hours less than full time for Aus$17.10 per hour (US$12.50), slightly lower than the national minimum wage, researchers said, although the figure included the value of the board and lodging provided.

Australia’s high cost of childcare is seen as the main driver of the trend.

“The demand for au pairing is often explained by Australian families’ need for affordable childcare,” the reports co-author Laurie Berg from UTS said in a statement.

“But the study indicates many families are taking advantage of the large supply of working holidaymakers to obtain cheap housekeeping services as well.”

The report found that young holidaymakers were left vulnerable by a lack of clear regulation.

There is no specific visa, official programme or even any official guidelines for travellers or those who offer them work.

“Families need to understand that along with the convenience and affordability of in-home care come full responsibilities as employers,” Macquarie University sociology professor Gabrielle Meagher said.

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